Football: Blades suffer final cut

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The Independent Online
Chelsea 3

Kjeldbjerg 58, Stein 76, 90

Sheffield United 2

Flo 29, Hodges 60

Attendance: 21,782

AFTER four seasons' practice, Sheffield United probably thought they had mastered the art of back-from-the-brink football. Yesterday at Stamford Bridge it finally failed them, but only in the last minute.

United had to win, or at least draw, and hope that Ipswich Town or Everton lost. In the event, the combination of other results and Chelsea's surprising determination defeated them. Mark Stein, a long-time absentee, had something to prove and his two second-half goals certainly did so, while consigning United to the First Division. 'When you play Russian roulette, sometimes you get the bullet,' was all that Dave Bassett would say. Succinct and ample.

In theory, of the relegation- threatened clubs, Sheffield United were likely to have the most accommodating opponents. Maybe Chelsea had things to sort out before next Saturday's FA Cup final against Manchester United but, on the face of it, those were only domestic matters concerning the fitness of Stein, out for 10 weeks, and Glenn Hoddle. The striker eloquently answered one question, and Hod dle came on and played a part in the winning goal.

What Chelsea were really concerned about was not getting hurt, which can be difficult against Bassett's teams when they desperately need points. What Chelsea also had to guard against was being accused of offering Sheffield United an easy escape from the drop.

By fielding the team likely to play at Wembley, Chelsea avoided any such accusations. From the start, their attitude was far from helpful. Although Roger Nilsen pierced a packed goal area after only 10 minutes, he was denied by an astute linesman spotting offside. Having survived that, Chelsea found that United's expected charge for safety became quiet persistence that succeeded after almost half an hour.

Jostein Flo had made several dangerous encroachments into the Chelsea penalty area and, when Frank Sinclair had to make an almost on-the-line header out, Nilsen laid the ball off for Flo to turn impressively and thrust in his shot.

Thanks to events elsewhere, United could afford to believe that, even if Chelsea equalised, they would be safe. And that was almost the situation early in the second half when Craig Burley's long ball gave Stein an opportunity to confirm his sharpness. A fraction before he could get the ball under control, John Gannon blocked the ball and the striker.

The delay in seeing Chelsea's equaliser was short. In the 58th minute Wise raised a free- kick high towards the far post and Jakob Kjeldbjerg glanced a header inside it for his first goal since joining Chelsea.

United's reaction was swift and accomplished. Again a free-kick was the prompt. Carl Bradshaw saw Glyn Hodges moving more or less unrestricted into the penalty area and Hodges skilfully controlled the ball on his chest before beating Dimitri Kharin.

The amber light of comparative safety that United thought they had seen suddenly flickered. In the 77th minute Gavin Peacock opened a chance for Stein in the penalty area and the striker curled a shot inside the post.

The arrival of Hoddle brought Chelsea composure and further threatened United in a finale that became increasingly and understandably tetchy. Surely United could hold on?

With 30 seconds left, Wise centred, Hoddle got into what he later called the 'nose-bleed area' and headed the ball on. Stein volleyed in the goal that severed United's grip on the Premiership.

(Photograph omitted)

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